Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist Credit: Credit: Flickr photo by Barb Hale

The Venable Neighborhood Association is one step closer to making a stretch of Rugby Road the second historic conservation district in Charlottesville.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend approval of the association’s request to make place the designation on both sides of the Rugby Road from the 600 block to the 1000 block.

The zoning overlay district would “promote the conservation of buildings and structures having an important historic, architectural or cultural interest,” according to the city staff report.

“Only a portion of the road is currently protected by preservation zoning and BAR oversight,” said Rachel Lloyd, president of the Venable Neighborhood Association. “Many neighbors have expressed a strong concern that the incremental but deleterious effects of teardowns and incompatible new development would slowly erode the strong sense of place that we work so hard to maintain in Venable.”

According to the staff report, the majority of the buildings on Rugby were constructed between 1889 and 1929 and the area contains “exceptional representation of late-Victorian and Colonial Revival residential and ecclesiastical architecture from the late 19th and early 20th century.”

Making Rugby Road a historic conservation district would mean any proposed new construction, or certain alterations and demolitions of existing structures, would be subject to approval by the Board of Architectural Review.

This caused some members of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist to voice their opposition.

“We are opposed to the formation,” said Sally Taylor, president of the church’s Board of Trustees. “This designation will mean additional time and additional money for the church, and we have limited amounts of both.”

Taylor said the church has plans to renovate portions of the two buildings it owns, and the change could mean a decreased value for their property.

But Planning Commissioner Genevieve Keller said Board of Architectural Review approval is only necessary when major changes are going to occur on roads like Rugby.

“It does merit some degree of thoughtful consideration when a demolition or new construction is going to occur there,” Keller said. “We’re not [saying] you can’t get up on Saturday and paint your doorway or rip out the magnolias, that can happen without any sort of review.”

Keller also said that being in a historic district would not lower the value of properties.

“In my experience I have only seen property values rise in historic districts,” Keller said.

Mary Joy Scala, the city’s historic preservation planner, also said Board of Architectural Review approval has not necessarily been a deterrent for property owners in other historic districts like Martha Jefferson.

“I don’t think it’s been overly restricted on the property owners,” she said

Another church member expressed a concern about the process of proposing a historic district.

“I just find that the whole process is incredibly undemocratic,” Marlene Jones said. “The fact that you even move forward without majority of the homeowners positively identifying that they want to be part of this process, I think is just absolutely wrong.”

Lloyd, however, said the majority of property owners she had received survey responses from said they supported creating the historic district. According to the association, 45 percent of property owners responded to a survey and of those, 71.4 percent supported the historic district designation.

The neighborhood association’s request now heads to the City Council for final approval at a future meeting.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist
Photo: Dan Grogan